Jesus was in one of the towns where there was also a man covered with a skin disease. When he saw Jesus, he fell on his face and begged, “Lord, if you want, you can make me clean.”
Jesus reached out his hand, touched him, and said, “I do want to. Be clean.” Instantly, the skin disease left him. Jesus ordered him not to tell anyone. “Instead,” Jesus said, “go and show yourself to the priest and make an offering for your cleansing, as Moses instructed. This will be a testimony to them.” News of him spread even more and huge crowds gathered to listen and to be healed from their illnesses. But Jesus would withdraw to deserted places for prayer.
One day when Jesus was teaching, Pharisees and legal experts were sitting nearby. They had come from every village in Galilee and Judea, and from Jerusalem. Now the power of the Lord was with Jesus to heal. Some men were bringing a man who was paralyzed, lying on a cot. They wanted to carry him in and place him before Jesus, but they couldn’t reach him because of the crowd. So they took him up on the roof and lowered him—cot and all—through the roof tiles into the crowded room in front of Jesus. When Jesus saw their faith, he said, “Friend, your sins are forgiven.”
The legal experts and Pharisees began to mutter among themselves, “Who is this who insults God? Only God can forgive sins!”
Jesus recognized what they were discussing and responded, “Why do you fill your minds with these questions? Which is easier—to say, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Get up and walk’? But so that you will know that the Human One has authority on the earth to forgive sins” —Jesus now spoke to the man who was paralyzed, “I say to you, get up, take your cot, and go home.” Right away, the man stood before them, picked up his cot, and went home, praising God.
All the people were beside themselves with wonder. Filled with awe, they glorified God, saying, “We’ve seen unimaginable things today.”
A few days ago, I stated that spirituality is not just a private enterprise. It has a place in every part of life, including public life. Our story today makes that exact point in a number of ways. First off, when Jesus healed the man with the skin disease, he told him to go and show himself to the priest. The reason for this is because the man was completely ostracized because of his disease. According to the Law of Moses, “Anyone with an infection of skin disease must wear torn clothes, dishevel their hair, cover their upper lip, and shout out, ‘Unclean! Unclean!’ They will be unclean as long as they are infected. They are unclean. They must live alone outside the camp” (compare Numbers 5.1-4).
I’m reminded of that scene in Philadelphia where Andrew Beckett (Tom Hanks) tells Joe Miller (Denzel Washington) that he has AIDS. Andrew walks into Joe’s office. While Joe’s shaking Andy’s hand, he asks, “What happened to your face?”
“I have AIDS,” Andy replies.
Joe, visibly shaken, let’s go of Andy’s hand. “Oh...”
Joe backs away.
Joe keeps backing away until he get to the other side of the office.
It’s a very powerful scene. It only lasts about 30 seconds, but you can feel the tension and “icky-ness” of Joe’s actions. You see the injustice and inhumanity of it played out right in front of you.
That’s what this Law did to people in Jesus’ culture. That’s the life of this man. He was ostracised from society and human contact. He was banished.
Furthermore, if someone came in contact with anything “unclean,” they, too, would be unclean and have to follow all of the purity laws (see this excellent article about this). This shows that the man’s question to Jesus is a loaded question. The man knows if Jesus touches him, Jesus will become unclean. Jesus knows this, too. That’s why his response is so moving - “Jesus reached out his hand, touched him, and said, ‘I do want to. Be clean’.”
Touch is a profoundly intimate action. Notice that Jesus touches the man before he speaks. John O’Donohue wrote,
With your hands, you reach out to touch the world. In human touch, hands find the hands, face, or body of the Other. Touch brings presence home. The activity of touch brings us close to the world of the Other…. Touch communicates belonging, tenderness, and warmth… At the highest moments of human intensity, words become silent. Then the language of touch really speaks. When you are lost in the black valley of pain, words grow frail and dumb. To be embraced and held warmly brings the only shelter and consolation.
That is what happened to this man. Jesus entered into his world and brought him to the Realm of G_d. All with a touch.
While one scene shows Jesus breaking societal mores and religious traditions on the outskirts of town, the next story shows him doing that right smack dab in the middle of town! In someone’s home, no less. One can’t get more public than that.
The part that’s surprising to me is not the healing of the lame man. Nor is it the faith of his friends. Nor is it the reaction of the crowd. The part that surprises me the most is the reaction from the Religious Elite. And it’s not even what they say that’s surprising. It’s what is going unsaid that actually illuminating.
What’s going unsaid is that they know full well that, certainly, G_d is the one who forgives sins, the bigger issue is that this man’s sins were forgiven without the need of the Temple or Mosaic Law. In other words, they are becoming obsolete. Their importance is waning. The need of the people to come to them for access to G_d is diminishing. If G_d is now forgiving and healing people on the street (like the man in the previous story) or in homes (like this one), then the Temple period is coming to an end. Soon, everyone will have access to G_d without the need of religious systems. Their power and control over the people is just about over.
And that’s what jars them the most.
This is why, to me, religious systems today are such a problem. It’s like we have forgotten (or chose to turn a blind eye to) what G_d did through Jesus. The Realm of G_d was established. The reality arrived to which those religious systems pointed. As I have said before, if we have arrived at the reality, we don’t need the signs any more.
This passage is leading us to practice our praxis in public, in the world, under the judgmental eye of those in power. May G_d grant us the grace and the courage to do just that.
In the Love of the Three in One,
Br. Jack+, LC